Sphere

on February 13, 1998 by Cathy Thompson-Georges
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   Directed by the gifted Barry Levinson, featuring a cast of stars who can actually act, "Sphere" is bidding for a cinematic space closer to the Big Idea territory of "Contact" than to the popcorn carnage of "The Lost World." And for the first hour or so of its run time, it's both compelling and great fun. Unfortunately, the film is ultimately derailed by the fatal flaw at the heart of Michael Crichton's source novel: the Big Idea, in this case, just isn't that big.
   The set-up is intriguing, to be sure. A team of diverse scientists, headed by psychologist Norman (Dustin Hoffman), is dispatched under hush-hush circumstances to a deep-sea location. What they're there to investigate is the wreck of a crashed aircraft--which went down almost 300 years ago. The team, which also includes a physicist (Liev Schreiber), a mathematician (Samuel L. Jackson) and a biologist (Sharon Stone), discovers a mysterious, probably extraterrestrial golden orb in the space ship, and the scary events begin.
   It's hard to fault the filmmaking in Sphere. Levinson keeps the action moving at a fast clip; he effectively sets up and presents the scare scenes; and he wins strong performances from the whole cast. The film also benefits from its eerie deep-sea setting, and some smashing special effects--the sphere itself is a compelling object. Unfortunately, the plotline hinges on a simple-minded and rather silly premise, one which doesn't live up to the buildup of the first part of the film. And the final escape to the surface, which should be nail-biting, is simply anticlimactic.
   "Sphere" is not trashy, or silly, or exploitative; a lot of talent has been used to good effect here. But in the final analysis, fine filmmaking cannot overcome mediocre material.    Starring Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone and Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by Barry Levinson. Written by Stephen Hauser and Paul Attanasio. Produced by Barry Levinson, Michael Crichton and Andrew Wald. A Warner release. Science Fiction. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action including some startling images. Running time: 133 min.
Tags: Starring Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by Barry Levinson. Written by Stephen Hauser and Paul Attanasio, Produced by Barry Levinson, Michael Crichton, Andrew Wald, Warner, Science Fiction
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